While many families are getting ready for their summer vacations, others are already looking ahead to fall, and even winter and next spring. We checked in with Trafalgar president Paul Wiseman to see where travelers are going in Europe and what the latest trends are.
Travelers should not expect any huge new developments from Trafalgar, Wiseman says, but rather refinements of their strongest practices. “We’re achieving great things,” he said, “but the task is not finished. We have the pillars of insider experiences…so we want to be bigger and better on that.”
Wiseman says that Trafalgar is the only tour operator that has a dedicated Autumn-Winter-Spring program these days. Trips from November through April are now on sale, and since the booking windows have expanded again to six months in advance, sales on the “shoulder season” are up more than 30 percent.
For Europe, Italy is seeing a “boom” in tourism, Wiseman says, acknowledging some measure of surprise. “Italy has been a strong market for so many years, but it reinvents itself in terms of volume,” he explained. “Italy has been our top seller, and it is up 100 percent compared to what we thought it would be.”
Another big surprise has been what Wiseman calls the “Traditional Discovery Vacation,” the multi-country European highlights tour that lead to punchlines like “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.” “We were worried about that kind of tour for a few years, because if you were ever going to criticize a guided vacation, a guided whirlwind tour is the one you can pick on,” he explains. “We had believed that the trend was moving away from that, but those things are selling like hotcakes!” Those tours had been tucked into the back of the Trafalgar brochure as the operator focused on more leisurely experiences. “We were assuming that the market no longer valued a ‘highlights’ experience. We were dead wrong.”
Trafalgar’s third surprise is the rise of Central Europe. “We’ve been losing business in Central Europe to river cruising,” Wiseman says, but adds quickly that the region is seeing a rebound in guided vacations. Britain and Ireland are also seeing a rebound in the wake of the 2012 Olympics, but Wiseman says that’s no surprise. “No one went touring in August or September,” he says, and the country is expecting a solid 50 percent growth.
Some new itineraries will be announced for the coming year, though at a certain point, a tour operator can only do so much. “We already have over 200 tours,” Wiseman says, “and 22 or 23 for Italy. We’ll have 4,000 departures this year, so we’re really just focusing on refining the product.”